Creek Gearing Up For Sign Invasion

by Rick Langenberg

Cripple Creek’s historic ban against electronic and digital signs may be screeching to a halt, as the town enters a new era of neon enticement. As a result, the town’s main street corridor could light up with multi-media displays, colored graphics, gaming videos and other tactics that have a more Las Vegas and Broadway-style.  These electronic signs have even become quite noticeable in Woodland Park and especially at such attractions as the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, where certain dinosaur caricatures have turned into mini-exhibits. 

The new sign craze, though, comes with a few catches.  Casinos and other establishments that resort to these modern promotional tactics would have to dismantle their banners and sandwich boards as a trade-off.  “We are trying to reduce clutter,” said Larry Manning, the development director of Cripple Creek, when discussing the changes. In one of the more pronounced alterations of the town’s new unified development code, the city is relaxing its long-time ban against digital signs, often viewed as a “no-no” in efforts to preserve the historic look of Bennett Avenue and other parts of the business district.


Last week, the city council held a workshop and Manning outlined some of the key changes to the forthcoming rules governing future development, zoning, historic preservation and signs in Cripple Creek. A final plan may be finalized in April.

Since the arrival of gaming, the city of Cripple Creek has frowned on the use of neon and electronic signs, and instead, has been more flexible regarding building banners that advertise special casino deals and promotions. 


However, elected leaders say the town’s experiment with a free-for-all banner system turned into a tacky failure, with the town exploding with a plethora of temporary signs.  A moratorium on enforcing banner regulations was eventually rescinded.  


According to the latest proposal, the city would allow a gaming company to install electronic signs, but they would only be allowed for one display per gaming company or license holder.  In other words, the Triple Crown and Bronco Billy’s, even though they feature several individual casinos, would only be permitted to have one electronic sign each.


However, this latter request is still under consideration.  Local business owner Judith McPherson questioned this restriction in lieu of the latest decision by the Colorado Division of Gaming to respect the use of multiple licenses in Cripple Creek by casino companies.  “The city needs to recognize they are individual businesses,” said McPherson, in reference to several casinos owned by the same company. 


The new sign plan also stipulates the size of these electronic displays.


And if casinos or retail businesses employ electronic signs, they can’t use banners and other temporary signs as an additional advertising tool at the same time.


This last point is heavily supported by the city council members, who publicly complained several years ago about the banner explosion in Cripple Creek. Mayor Bruce Brown stated that he likes the proposed changeover to electronic signs and believes it could give the town a more professional look.


The new plan got a favorable response from several casino representatives, who attended last week’s workshop.  Larry Hill, the general manager of the Triple Crown Casinos, welcomed the city’s new view regarding electronic signs.  “Electronic signs are attractive to us,” said Hill.


Still, some concerns were raised about a few of the details, such as the size of the electronic displays. “Make it user-friendly,” advised Annie Tobey of Bronco Billy’s casino.  


In other proposed changes to the new code, the city is also relaxing its rules on certain proposed large-scale projects that don’t conform to current regulations, such as exceeding current height restrictions. These would be part of a new classification for projects of special merit.  One of the main goals of the new code is to open the door for special signature projects, such as a future convention center, as long as the town’s historic character is maintained.


Manning also discussed certain zoning alterations that would add and delete certain properties from the historic districts.


Another workshop is slated on the new development code for March, with a final product expected later this spring.  The project has been in the works for about a year, and hit a standstill last summer, when the city parted ways with Thomas and Thomas, the original architects of the development plan.  City leaders complained the consultants were developing a plan that was way too complicated and that didn’t meet the town’s unique characteristics.


According to City Administrator Ray White, the main goal of the project is to simplify the rules and to make the town much more business and development-friendly.  “We want to give them (future developers and business owners) more options,” said White.


In other city news, White last week announced the appointment of Heritage Tourism Director Tom Cooper as the city’s non-voting board representative for the Cripple Creek/Victor Chamber of Commerce for 2012. The chamber recently picked a new board and has a new president, Mike Shoaf of the Community Banks of Colorado.  The city’s previous board representative was Pat Martin.